Review: Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor
If you didn’t know, I’m basically in love with Nnedi Okorafor. I want her to tuck me in and tell me stories at night and to be my best friend. You should probably know that before continuing on.
Akata Witch, while featuring Okorafor’s fantastic creativity and wit, is not an adult book. It aims well at the 12-14 range.
The story follows Sunny, a twelve year old living in Nigeria after having spent her first nine years in America. Sunny is often left alone or made fun of because she has albinism, a condition in which the skin lacks melanin, thus appearing white. This has set her apart from her classmates who call her akata, a derogatory word for people from the bush or to mark someone as an outsider unworthy or untrustable.
Sunny’s family is very normal. Highly educated, they spend much of their time teaching their children to behave and ensuring that they’re educated. They are more severe with Sunny who is the only daughter.
But, Sunny is different. Aside from her skin, her friends reveal that she is a Leopard Person, someone with magical powers and the ability to go between the regular and the magical world. Sunny then has to learn what this means, how to be a Leopard Person when the rest of her family was normal, and who she really is. All the while, a serial killer is on the loose.
There’s a lot that this book has to offer. From complex, but approachable and genuine characters to an entertaining and detailed plot, I really thought Okorafor knocked this one out of the park.
I know I like it, but the question is, will a younger reader (the intended audience) like it? I think the answer is yes. Okorafor creates a world that young readers will identify with: a kid who is fairly normal, if on the outside, who is thrust into an adventure that will change the world. Okorafor delves into west African and Nigerian folk-lore without assuming a great amount of knowledge or over explaining. She provides just the right amount of context for a reader, in particular a young reader, without leaving them feeling talked down to. I cannot speak of this highly enough. It leaves you with a sense of understanding and discovery.
What’s great about Akata Witch is that it also offers a wide cast of characters and problems. Okorafor’s story features characters whose lives are different. They have distinct problems, dyslexia, albinism, an estranged family, narcissism. They are different genders and races. They succeed, but not without their own insecurities and challenges to test them. But all of the characters feel complete and their interactions and personalities grow with the story.
Basically, this was a good read. It has it’s cheezy moments, but is a fun adventure with a lot to offer.